Practical and ethical constraints limit our ability to experimentally test socioecological theory in wild primates. We took an alternate approach to model this, allowing groups of humans to interact in a virtual world in which they had to find food and interact with both ingroup and outgroup avatars to earn rewards. We altered ratios and distributions of high- and low-value foods to test the hypothesis that hominoids vary with regards to social cohesion and intergroup tolerance due to their feeding ecology. We found larger nesting clusters and decreased attacks on outgroup competitors in the Bonobo condition versus the Chimpanzee condition, suggesting a significant effect of feeding competition alone on social structure. We also demonstrate that virtual worlds are a robust mechanism for testing hypotheses that are impossible to study in the wild.
Wilson, B.J., Brosnan, S.F., Lonsdorf, E.V., & Sanz, C. M. (2020). Consistent differences in a virtual world model of ape societies. Scientific Reports, 10, 14075. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-70955-6
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